Brand Stand 2-1-2005

Why IACVB wants a new name and an entirely new image

What type of clout does the term “convention and visitors bureau” have? According to focus groups of 2,000 CVB stakeholders (including government officials, consumers, meeting professionals, hoteliers and CVB professionals) conducted last year by Anacortes, Wash.-based BrandStrategy Inc., the monikers “convention and visitors bureau” and “CVB” have little or no recognition among most consumers, although they are familiar to most meeting professionals and others in the tourism business.
    Among other findings:
    " Most consumers (71 percent) have never interacted with CVBs.
    " Meeting professionals have had inconsistent experiences with bureaus; association planners have had the most positive experiences.
    " The general public is very supportive of tourism efforts in their local communities and supports the use of government funds to promote tourism. -- L.G.

Michael Gehrisch, IACVB president and CEO“The industry is so ripe for repositioning.”
Michael Gehrisch

After 91 years representing the interests and image of convention and visitor bureaus nationwide, the Washington, D.C.-based International Association of Convention & Visitor Bureaus has done a complete about-face, thanks to one basic fact: Despite decades of effort, most people outside this business and even many inside it still don’t have a clear picture of what a CVB is and does. 
    So, the organization wants to scrap the term “CVB.” In a dramatic repositioning effort, IACVB is poised to become the Destination Marketing Association, or DMA, with the tag line (which IACVB terms a “byline”), Representing Destination Marketing Organizations Worldwide, pending adoption by the board in March. (The new name was proposed last December, and in January members were asked to weigh in on the change via a survey linked to IACVB’s website at
    The radical moves don’t stop there: IACVB is recommending that member bureaus follow suit and become “destination marketing organizations,” or DMOs.
    “The industry is so ripe for repositioning,” says IACVB president and CEO Michael D. Gehrisch. “There is so much competition for bureaus now, both amongst themselves and from other areas like the Internet and third parties.” Clarifying the role of bureaus by giving them a name that actually describes what they do, he argues, will go far toward strengthening the industry.
    “When people ask me what I do for a living, they give me a blank stare or assume I run a convention center,” says Gehrisch. “But when I explain how IACVB markets destinations, they get it.”

Paving the way
“A lot of people think this happened overnight, but it has taken three years,” says Maura Gast, FCDME, executive director of the Irving (Texas) Convention & Visitors Bureau and member of the IACVB board. The brains behind this comprehensive initiative are the Brand Leadership Campaign Strategic Advisory Group, comprised of CVB members and headed by Reint Reinders, president and CEO of the San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau, and branding expert Duane Knapp, president of Anacortes, Wash.-based BrandStrategy Inc. IACVB’s board members also have kept abreast of developments and given their stamps of approval to all the measures introduced thus far.
    As a first step, the association researched how bureaus are perceived in the industry and in the general population (see “Say What?,” above). Next came a “brand promise,” a statement that represents the organization’s commitment to the industry and from which future strategies and actions will be based (see “Making Promises”).
    The group also has created two online guides for members: The BrandScience Guide for Destination Research, to help CVBs establish studies that will help them define the brand promise, name and overall strategy, and The BrandScience Guide for Destination RFPs, “a guide to help CVBs select the right expertise to create a winning destination brand,” as the official description notes.
    Last month, IACVB published Destination BrandScience, a how-to for bureaus to brand and reposition themselves. The book is free for IACVB member bureaus. The association also will hold a series of branding clinics, including web seminars, to acquaint members with branding and to demonstrate how repositioning is in their best interest.

An early step in IACVB’s repositioning plan was to create the following industry “brand promise,” adopted in December 2004.
    “We are the visitor’s and meeting professional’s trusted partner the heart, soul and energy of our destination. We drive economic success and enhance the quality of life in our communities. Our communities appreciate our contribution: The better the CVB, the better the experience.”

Going forward
Now a question remains: Will the rebranding initiative prove successful?
“I think the new name will fly,” says Maura Gast, who also serves with the Brand Leadership Campaign Strategic Advisory Group. “We paid for professional guidance and research [the $200,000 tab was funded by IACVB and the IACVB Foundation], and we should pay attention to it.” If many members dislike the proposed name, the board will have to offer up an alternative, she adds.
    A key concern of CVBs is what the implications of a name change are for individual bureau monikers. “Those decisions need to be made on a local level,” says IACVB board president Melvin Tennant (also executive director of the San Antonio Convention & Visitors Bureau). “IACVB is a volunteer organization and cannot mandate that CVBs change their names,” he notes.
IACVB hopes its members will at least adopt a byline that reinforces the fact that the bureau is the official destination marketing organization for the community it represents, adds Tennant.
    In the weeks following the proposed name change, member comments on the association’s website reflected a wide range of opinions. “Some people are disappointed and frustrated,” says Maura Gast. “But a number of CVB executives are behind it 100 percent.”
    Gary Sherwin, vice president, market development/communications, for the Palm Springs Desert Resorts Convention and Visitors Authority, is a strong advocate of IACVB’s actions. “This is the time for change,” he says. “If we don’t reinvent ourselves, someone else will.”
    Another proponent of change is Steve Moore, president and CEO of the Greater Phoenix Convention & Visitors Bureau. “I applaud IACVB’s branding concept, the inclusive response timeline, the formal consideration after such input and the educational programming around its implementation,” he says. “While many CVBs including ours might not abandon their brand equity earned within their respective communities with a name change at this time, the DMA concept will prove to be a winner with the group and consumer leisure travel markets.”
    Others are more skeptical. Tom Galyon, president and CEO of the Corpus Christi (Texas) Convention & Visitors Bureau, has some concerns about the use of the word marketing in the name Destination Marketing Association and for the use of “destination marketing organization” instead of the familiar CVB tag. “I suggest the name be destination management organizations, as we are managers more than marketers,” he says.
    But Mel Tennant is confident the move makes sense. “I believe there was enough homework and background work done. We did not do this in a vacuum; we have minimized whatever risk there might be.”